There is a funny little story about how I first came to be friends with members of both Red Guitars and Fragile Creatures a few years ago. The latter had sent a track called Falling in to Fresh On The Net and I was sufficiently impressed to review it in my Trust The Doc blog. In so doing, I said it reminded me of a band I loved back in the eighties called Red Guitars. I fully expected Fragile Creatures never to have heard of them. So imagine my surprise when Adam Kidd messaged me to ask whether I was aware that I had compared him to his dad! Yes, he is the son of Red Guitars vocalist Jerry Kidd. It was through also including a feature in the same edition about Red Guitars that I was contacted by their Bass Guitarist Lou Duffy-Howard (nee Louise Barlow). Wind the clock on four years and I have written about and played (on radio and online TV show) tracks and videos by Lou’s bands Loudhailer Electric Company and recent Fresh Faves Agent Starling, her son’s band Terra Finn and, of course, Fragile Creatures, who have played two of my gigs in South East London.
I only saw Hull legends Red Guitars once back in the eighties. It was the 1985 GLC Festival in Battersea Park. Jerry Kidd had recently left them and his replacement Robert Holmes was fronting the band. It is a fact that it was the day a teenage Boris Becker won his first Wimbledon Mens Singles title. Sadly, today is the day he went to jail for trying to hide money following his bankruptcy. I can’t help but wonder why he didn’t have someone looking out for him during his long painful slide into poverty and darkness. But, on a happier note, what a thrill not only to be able to finally see the classic Red Guitars line-up live but for them to be supported on this and one other tour date by Fragile Creatures.
Fragile Creatures look absolutely at home in the buzzing atmosphere of the 100 Club. From the outset, they are polished, energetic and brimming with confidence and the audience immediately warms to them. We are treated to quite a bit of the Punk Yacht album including some TTD Radio favourites like Big Red Button, Distant Star and Phantom Limb as well as brand new single, out today, Grandaddy. Adam explains that the song is about never giving up on people regardless of how unpleasant their ideas may be. Clearly he is more patient and tolerant than me! There are also some other new tracks and I don’t think the band will mind my saying that I thought these were among the highlights. Bad Smell, in particular, has future single stamped all over it. Everything goes well. The instrumental performances of the individual band members are impressive and the vocal harmonies are spine-tingling at times. It has been a triumph tonight and the band are understandably buzzing afterwards. Moreover it has been a reminder that they are absolutely ready to be playing big venues as the norm. I hope 2022 will see more opportunities to put themselves in front of big audiences.
From early in the evening, I got talking to a friendly couple from Hull who are friends with Red Guitars lead guitarist Hallam Lewis, but had never heard his band. They ask whether they are likely to recognise any of the band’s hits. Probably not, I reply, as they weren’t one of the Post-Punk bands who crossed over into the charts. But they deserved to be and, had they had the support of a major label marketing machine, they probably would have been. But they were pioneers of self-releasing in an era where that must have required unbelievable levels of commitment and discipline. What they achieved entirely from their own endeavours, in retrospect, was remarkable. Lou has told me about how tough it was for them performing with other bands who would have label staff laying on taxis, hotel rooms and various needs while Red Guitars had to do it all for themselves. Yes younger readers, studio time used to cost the earth back then and you couldn’t whack out an AIFF file from your bedroom laptop and get Distrokid to place it in all the big digital stores for less than twenty quid like you can now! In a sense, Red Guitars were and still are all about what Fresh On The Net was set up to support.
Three and a half decades on, the reformed Red Guitars are now appended by a third guitarist Jos Allen. Otherwise it’s the classic line-up of Jerry Kidd (vocals), Hallam Lewis and John Rowley (guitars), Lou Duffy-Howard (bass guitar) and Matt Higgins (drums). Matt Higgins plays with headphones these days, presumably in order to incorporate additional pre-recorded sounds. They take to the stage with a teasing instrumental while we wait for Jerry to join the party and then, to the unbridled joy of a packed venue, they surge into a scintillating rendition of Marimba Jive, Hallam’s South African inspired guitar figures playing off against Lou’s sumptuous sliding fretless bassline. It takes seconds to establish that Jerry has lost nothing of the power and distinctive character in his voice and the band have lost nothing of their interlocking groove-making chemistry. Shaken Not Stirred follows and we are all in seventh heaven. With shoulder length blonde hair and shades, Jerry looks more like his son than ever before and Adam and I joke that his dad has stolen his look!
The setlist basically comprises early singles, some B-sides and the entire Slow To Fade album although not in track order. There are so many highlights. Hallam’s guitar playing is heavenly at times. Steeltown sounds fresh and feisty. Astronomy is funky and sassy. It was always guaranteed to hold a place in my heart as almost certainly the only track by a prominent mid-eighties Indie band that references Steely Dan! When Matt begins the shuffling drum intro to Remote Control, the rush I get is off the charts. Hearing that song live will now forever be one of my all-time favourite live music moments. Likewise Crocodile Tears. Lou’s bass plays such a pivotal role in the band’s uniquely Afro-Funk infused version of Alt Pop and she smiles so constantly and appealingly, she looks like she would be happy to be on that stage for the entire night! Inevitably they end with a barnstorming rendition of Good Technology which brings the house down. The audience demands and duly receives a couple of encores too including a superb performance of Paris France. It has been an invigorating and exhilarating set.
After the gig I get an opportunity for a chat with Lou who graciously thanks me for all the support I have given to her and her son’s projects. Honestly though, it is her who should be getting the thanks tonight following such a wonderful performance. One of those nights when even the tube and train journey home late on a Friday night seems not too bad with the sound of these two excellent bands echoing in my head.